Engineering Supervisor Seeks Competitive Advantage, Enhances Leadership Skills in MOT
From a young age, Nick Heath has loved cars. He grew up watching his dad race, whizzing on track after track. He recalls most of his childhood vacations consisting of accompanying his dad to watch him race at the amateur sportsman level, often at the same national events as the pros. It turns out his dad was pretty good at it – and innovative to boot. He’d become the national record holder in his class within NHRA’s “Stock Eliminator” category after he bought a 1989 Mustang GT and transformed it into a race car in their South Minneapolis garage.
Today, Heath is an engineering supervisor and student in the 2020 cohort of our M.S. in Management of Technology (MOT) degree program. He says he owes how he began his career path to a childhood full of observing his dad approach racing with problem-solving and “backyard engineering” skills to improve performance.
“Mechanical engineering was at the intersection of race cars and math/science, which came naturally to me, so I went for it,' said Heath, who earned a bachelor's in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota.
Since 2012, has been working for Emerson in their business unit that produces Rosemount brand measurement instrumentation. Their products measure critical parameters like pressure, temperature, level and flow in process industries such as oil refineries and chemical processing plants. He started out as a supplier performance engineer, mentored newer engineers and worked his way up to a leadership role.
I wanted a graduate program that mixed business and technology and – above all else – I wanted my degree to be meaningful to me, not just something I was doing to 'check off the box.'
All this while, he was mulling graduate school, in part thanks to his own mentor.
“When my first manager and I started discussing career development, he specifically recommended the MOT program,” said Heath. “I took the leap shortly after getting promoted to a supervisory/leadership role.”
For two years, Heath has been an engineering supervisor in the supplier performance engineering group. He’s responsible for two teams across three factories, conducting quality inspections of mechanical components and driving quality improvements with external vendors.
He reached out to the admissions staff, attended an info session one fall, and connected with MOT alumni at Emerson.
“I wanted a graduate program that mixed business and technology and – above all else – I wanted my degree to be meaningful to me, not just something I was doing to ‘check off the box,’” said Heath, who had turned down an opportunity to pursue a business-focused role early in his career. “I’m still attached to the technical side of my work, such as solving engineering problems and driving process improvements.”
MOT allows students like Heath and others to pursue leadership roles within their field, without having to bid goodbye to their STEM backgrounds that lured them to their respective fields in the first place.
Since being in MOT, he says he’s learned a tremendous amount about his own leadership style.
“I am much more confident approaching problems with an innovative mindset and offering bold, outside-the-box solutions,” said Heath. “MOT has broadened my strategic perspective. I have a greater understanding of how to progress through a large, global technology organization.”
He says his skills are already positively affecting his team, too. He says he now challenges his team to brainstorm ways to improve processes and experiment, rather than following one linear path. “It’s the subtle changes like this that have helped bring numerous innovative ideas from my team out into the open, which I don’t think would’ve happened without my MOT courses.”
His short-term goal is to continue refining his leadership style and apply the skills and tools from MOT to his day-to-day work. Long term, he hopes to take on greater leadership responsibilities and advance his career to the next level.
What do you study in MOT? In addition to accounting, finance and marketing, MOT exposes students to technology forecasting, innovation management, new technology product development and commercialization. The two year program even takes students abroad in their second year to practice international business skills as they study emerging and leading markets, such as those in China and Vietnam.
One of Heath’s biggest takeaways is learning to filter out the noise.
“MOT is helpful because it teaches us to look beyond buzzwords and analyze how they can provide business value,” he said, recommending that every tech professional interested in leadership consider MOT.
“Many people relate the word ‘innovation’ to new product development, like when Steve Jobs would unveil Apple’s latest and greatest product,” he said. “But innovation goes far beyond that. My role, for instance, is far from traditional R&D and yet I have found great value in understanding innovation. Never stop learning. The world is constantly changing and education is important to stay aware of the trends shaping these changes. Develop a dynamic leadership style that can quickly adapt to change.”
One buzzword in his field is “Industry 4.0,” referring to today’s current trends of automation and data exchange forming the fourth industrial revolution. Heath believes that, like every other industrial revolution, leaders will have to quickly adapt to trends or their organizations will be left behind.
And he, for one, is determined to be at the front of whatever tech revolution is around the corner.
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Senior Communications Specialist